(Continued from Aug 9)
Many weeks covering the beginning of the project were pretty much written off once I understood the difficulty of getting to know these guys. Bikers. These guys grew up with eachother, they were cousins, uncles and nephews, former adversaries who lived on the same block, and I was… who? So I spent a great deal of time simply spending time with them. When I crossed that threshold the question I dealt with time and again was, “So why you wanna take pictures of us?”
“What do you do?”
This is what I do, I tell them. I’m a photographer and I want to take pictures of you guys because I want to tell the world your stories.
“Yeah, but how do you make money?”
I work in commercial and fashion photography, working on photo crews you know? Like I help other photographers with their lighting, their cameras, help keep the whole photoshoot going.
“Oh, ok.” they say. But I know they don’t quite get it yet. Most of the guys have a hard time accepting that it’s my life mission to get to know them, to get inside their lives, and that people build careers around this sort of thing.
Ultimately I appeal to their sense of vanity. I bring in a book called, Subway by Bruce Davidson, and show them photos of the New York City subway in the 1980’s. The subway’s not like that anymore, I tell them. It’s completely different now. I need to take pictures of you right now because who knows in 20 years whether Harley’s will be electric or still run on gas? I need to get pictures of you so that the world can see them in the future and understand the history of Brooklyn, and the MC Outlaw lifestyle. "This shit is changing so fast right now," I say.
“Oh, ok.” History. I realize that so far they don’t really understand what I’m trying to accomplish. They humor me, as if I were some sort of hobbyist but that’s ok. I’m there. I’m in the door. It’s so funny remembering how gung-ho I was at the time. Naive, eager to be accepted and infatuated with the camaraderie at the bike shop. This was our ticket to fame, I thought. I was going to make us all famous.
For most of August, Javier and I spent afternoons and evenings at the shop talking and fucking around with everyone. He was my guide, explaining what kind of bike I was looking at or who was particularly touchy about newcomers. It seemed as if there was a revolving cast that came through. One night quite a few members, patch holders of the club, came in together all dressed in black leather riding gear and I was in awe. That’s when I took my first picture of Chino, the President. Javier went into a conniption.
“Oh no, oh my god, I can’t believe you did that!” he said quietly.
“What? What did I do?”
“That’s Chino! He’s the president of the club.”
“Shadi, be careful around him, please!”
It’s like that, I wondered? I thought that was just in the movies.
Beyond the service counter where the parts catalogs and motorcycle merchandise there was a shop area with two bike lifts. A sign, that read EMPLOYEES ONLY,. blocked the entrance but it was clear that if you were down, you could roam freely in the work area past the gate while Pote, the master builder, worked all day and all night. Each day a different bike was being torn apart, and rebuilt. Harley’s were made there from scratch. But it was a wonder how it got done as the people who hung out there outnumbered the ones working.
It was a cross between a social club and a bike shop. There was a fridge stocked with Coors Lights, a TV with a black box that accessed every channel, and a stereo tuned to either hip hop or classic rock radio. When you walked in, there was a movie night, a bullshit session, and a wrenching tutorial going on all at once. And by 9pm most everybody was pretty ripped or high, or on the way there especially since some guys started around 3 or 4pm. It was amazing because there was never any pressure to do anything. And most of the time there was never anything going on, which led to drinking out of boredom.
Understand, this was the place where you went to do jack shit and enjoy yourself with like-minded individuals. That’s part of why I fit in there. But my camera and my curiosity kept me focused. Or at least semi-focused. I kept two camera bodies strapped around my neck. One carried 3200 speed film, the grainy black and white shit that reads like sandpaper, I taped that camera up with black gaffer so my sweaty drunk hands could hold onto that thing. The color body, taped in yellow gaffer tape, carried color neg 800 shot at 1600. It was less grainy but gave me that inky faded retro color you see. Add 4 or 5 lenses, a flash I never used, and a fistful of film until I clunked, bounced, and bobbled my around the shop.
When I took pictures, I became very conscious that they were watching me. Most of them were posed at that point. A lot of the guys actually asked me to take those photos. I’m glad though because I captured quite a few warm moments. I also asked lots of questions, about the bikes, about themselves, their histories, friendships. And when I took pictures of artifacts, objects, I encountered good natured amusement as to why I was even interested in these knick-knacks. I'd be scrounging up to get a detail of something, or sitting on the floor for a vantage point and someone would ask, "What the hell you taking pictures of that for? You should take a picture of me!"
And another popular question, “So what are you gonna do with these pictures?”
“I want to make a book with them.”
“A book? You gonna write a book?”
“Yeah, well sort of. I want to save these pictures for history. Because in 20 years I don’t know if any of us will be here anymore. So much will be different,” I’d reply.
“But what do you do? What’s your job?”
And I'd reply, “this is my job.”